Bringing a Peace of Hiroshima to North Carolina

At the home I grew up in, a stately evergreen tree towered over our front yard. This pine tree gave shade every summer. It’s the spot where my father would sit while he made sure my best friend and I did not drown in the pool that we spent hours in-until my friend’s lips would literally turn blue. 🙂

It’s the spot where we all sat on a swing while the smoke from the mosquito coils (remember those?) swirled around us as we ate watermelon or ice cream at the end of a fun- filled summer day. I treasure these childhood memories.

Sadly, some years later, that majestic evergreen had to come down-I don’t quite remember why. The front yard looked so lonely with just a grounded stump in the middle. My mom decided to fill that void with a graceful Japanese Maple sapling. She loved the idea of having a tree that reminded her of the ones in the yard of her Hiroshima home.

This stroll down memory lane, leads me to the event I alluded to in my last blog posts. Since my novel, The Last Cherry Blossom, introduces readers to the culture of Japan in the last year of WWII, I wanted to bring Hiroshima to the state I’m living in when my book published. Last year I found a program called Green Legacy Hiroshima, which was started by two friends: Nassrine Azimi and Tomoko Watanabe. Green Legacy Hiroshima is under the umbrella of the United Nations Institute of Training and Research (UNITAR).

Green Legacy Hiroshima(GLH) cultivates and sends seeds from trees that miraculously survived the atomic bombing on August 6th, also known as A-bomb trees. When we visited Hiroshima two years ago, we viewed these trees and it was a remarkable sight to behold.

GLH has sent seeds to 30 countries to be cultivated into saplings that would then be planted in memory of the victims of nuclear weapons and to spread the message of peace. Currently in the United states, only six states have these saplings. North Carolina will now become the 7th state. (In the future, I’d really like to work on having an A-bomb tree planted in Rhode Island. It is the state I grew up in, and is the first state my mom moved to when she came to the United States and lived in for over 50 years before moving to NC in 2013).

So, in late 2015, I contacted Nassrine Azimi and discussed my wish to partner with GLH and a university in North Carolina to plant a sapling from an A-bomb tree. In July 2016, she connected me with a couple in Atlanta, Georgia (Steve and Elizabeth Leeper) that had nurtured a Ginkgo sapling. This would save time and paperwork normally needed to procure and quarantine the seeds that arrive from Japan. I’m very grateful for the elimination of that process. My husband and I drove to Atlanta last July and picked up the sapling.

The A-Bomb sapling grown from seeds of Mother Ginkgo tree to be planted at UNCW

http://www.lang-arts.com/survivors/shukkeien.html

The Mother Ginkgo tree at Shukkeien Gardens after atomic bomb.

http://www.lang-arts.com/survivors/shukkeien.html

Mother Ginkgo tree today,Shukkeien Garden

My daughter, Sara, attends the University of North Carolina, Wilmington(UNCW) and is minoring in Japanese. It seemed like a great fit. I contacted the coordinator of the Japanese Minor and Senior Lecturer of Japanese at UNCW, Kano-sensei. She loved this idea as well and would work with me to make this happen.

This past spring semester, Sara joined the newly formed Japan Club at UNCW. She discussed having a fundraiser for the dedication plaque for this Hiroshima A-bomb tree. The Japan Club jumped on her idea and set up fundraisers within a week. The Japan Club, with the help of some other donors had raised the funds needed within a few months. The Japan Club members, Kano-sensei, and UNCW have been fantastic. The Japan Club is currently planning the dedication ceremony.

UNCW Japan Club Members

UNCW Japan Club GLH cookie sale

Kano-sensei invited me to speak at the North Carolina Teaching about Asia Network Seminar being held at UNCW on Saturday, September 30th. The dedication ceremony will take place after this seminar.

I’m so grateful to my daughter, her professor, the Japan Club members, and UNC Wilmington. Their enthusiasm and dedication to this cause truly touched my heart.

I do have one other very important reason why I feel that UNCW is a perfect fit. In the summer of 2014, my mother toured only one college with my daughter. And yes, that college was UNCW. 😊

I hope that whenever someone walks between the UNCW Student Union and the pond near Leutze Hall, they might find respite from the heat of the Carolina sun under this A-bomb tree. And while sitting there, would read the plaque, be reminded of what happened on August 6, 1945, and the wish for peace that these trees bring. I pray that these Hiroshima A-bomb trees are the last ones that will ever need to be planted to remind us of why nuclear weapons should never be used again.

When the A-bomb Ginkgo tree is dedicated to the Ishikawa family, on September 30th, I am sure my mom will be smiling. Just like she did whenever she looked at the Japanese maple in our front yard.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by Hurricane Harvey and Irma.

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MEMORABLE FIRST DATES

Two years ago, on July 15th, we visited Hiroshima for the very first time. I remember that we had our first dinner in the ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) that night and we toasted my beloved Godfather, Roger (the one who taught me to laugh through my pain who passed away in January 2014) because it was his birthday. And we of course, toasted my mom (it also happened to be exactly 6 months since she had passed away).

We have beautiful memories-visiting the same shrine my mom visited when she was a little girl-seeing the beauty of where she grew up as she would describe it before the last year of the war. There were some bittersweet moments as well- standing in front of the cenotaph where the names of all the people who were in Hiroshima that day are written after they pass away, knowing hers would now be listed there along with her Papa.

 

(Hiroshima Bay 7/15/15 Kathleen Burkinshaw)

(Cenotaph Hiroshima Peace Park, Kathleen Burkinshaw)

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now in that same month two years later, on July 7th, 122 countries in the United Nations historically voted on adopting a Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons. And yes, the main countries who have nuclear weapons (U.S. and Russia being two of them) were not at the meeting and are not planning to sign it any time soon.  Neither was Japan. However, Japan will be holding a meeting on nuclear disarmament later in the year and are inviting experts from both nuclear and non-nuclear nations to rebuild trust between them. But every journey begins with taking a first step.

I was invited to celebrate this first step last Thursday, at the Sowing Seeds of Peace meeting hosted by the Western Carolina region of Physicians for Social Responsibility(WNCPSR) and Nuclear Information and Resource Service(NIRS) in Asheville NC. It was an honor to discuss my mom’s experience in Hiroshima on 8/6/45, with a room full of people who have fought and continue to fight diligently for the abolishment of nuclear weapons (including State Representative for Buncombe County, Susan Fisher).  It was so interesting to hear from people who marched in the June New York City Woman’s March to Ban the Bomb (in the pouring rain) discuss their dedication to this cause.

In addition, people who were at the United Nations(UN) and spoke at the various side sessions also presented.  One speaker was Mary Olson (a staff biologist at NIRS). The UN cited her paper GENDER AND RADIATION, (that discussed how women are more at risk from radiation than men) as one of the reasons for this Treaty. Dr. Terry Clark (Chairperson of WNCPRS) closed the meeting with a glass of sparkling grape juice and a toast, “To the Treaty which works against passivity and brings a sense of hope.” I truly believe my mom would be filled with hope, knowing that this first step(albeit, of many) has been taken.

 

Speaking of firsts……August 2nd is the First anniversary of THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM(TLCB) being published-Woohoo!! Who knew how fast time would go and that in the first four months it would go through 3 print runs and in the last 8 months be on school summer reading lists, read by students in Australia, and a Finalist for SCBWI Crystal Kite Award(Southeast region)?! I’m so grateful to everyone who made these events possible!😊

To celebrate this First anniversary, I’m doing a GIVEAWAY!! It will start on August 2nd and end on August 31st.  A link to the Rafflecopter giveaway, info on surprises, list of blogs and podcast that will be hosting me for the TLCB Blooming Anniversary Tour will be in my blog post Wednesday, August 2nd. Which will also be a first for me-having 2 blog posts in one week! 🙂

As exciting as all that is, the most important date in August for me is still August 6th. A day that never escaped my mom’s memory, a day that caused horrible nightmares, a day that her world ignited, and her childhood went up in smoke. And yet, she persevered, found her way to love, and realized she still had a reason to live.

I still can picture my mom sitting in the dining room of the home I grew up in with her treasured picture of her and her Papa prominently displayed when I first began to write down her childhood memories. The dining room was her favorite room.  A large picture window let in the afternoon sun and she loved the way it made the goldenrod color of the walls glow. She also insisted on feeding you when you visited-so if you were at the dining room table she knew you would eat and that made her happy. That day was no different, and I had to move plates of fruit, cheese curls, eclairs, and Social Tea Cookies so that I could have space for my notebook to write-now this was just for an afternoon snack-so you can imagine what the table looked like at an actual meal (&those of you who knew my mom, know I’m not exaggerating)! 😊

She stopped in the middle of her story, and told me that she finally understood why she survived that day. She survived so that her Papa and all the people she lost wouldn’t be forgotten (she never mentioned herself).  She wasn’t the one to tell the story, but God blessed her with someone who would be brave enough to do it. I cried when she said it then and am crying now as I write this post.

But to me, my mom was the brave one. She decided to take that first step toward her new life (and to those that have read TLCB, you know where that first step led her).

I hope that she is smiling in heaven- happy that her Papa, the people she loved, (and yes, mom, you too), will be remembered; not only by friends and loved ones, but even by people all over the world!

This year marks the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima (and Nagasaki on the ninth). Unfortunately, due to health issues, I was unable to schedule anything to commemorate the actual day of August 6th.  However, a very special memorial celebration will be held on September 30th, that I will talk about in more detail at the end of August.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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